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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkVallarta Living | August 2008 

Irreverent Chef: Get To Know Your Pila
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The classic pila/lavadero

With the amazing innovation of a moveable faucet
You may have noticed somewhere around your house or apartment, on a patio, in a laundry room, or maybe just out in the yard somewhere, a large concrete thing that looks like it might be a sink, but where the water goes in there is no drain. The pila, or lavadero, (the whole unit is called a lavadero and the water storage part is the pila, but some people call the whole thing a pila too,) is ubiquitous in Mexico.

It can be found in the most primitive huts and in the most luxurious villas. Even in houses where there are perfectly good washing machines the pila is used for many items, like rugs and hand washing. In some homes it is the only appliance that has plumbing, so all the household water will come from it. It can be used for washing clothes, dishes, small children. Adults, too, often use the pila to bathe. I have witnessed people taking a bath outdoors, fully clothed, soaping up and pouring water over their heads.

When I encountered my first pila I was confused, and I meet people who have been here for years and are still confused about what to do with it. I read about a woman who had rented a house somewhere in Central America. She found a pila on the property and thought it looked like the perfect place to plant some lettuce. When the maid arrived and found her washing area full of dirt she was just as confused as the renter was, but most likely angry too. Where would she wash? What was this crazy gringa thinking?

Pilas can be manufactured or homemade. The manufactured variety comes in four sizes... something for everyone! In places where water flow gets interrupted regularly, the pila tends to be handmade and quite large, with a huge reservoir. In the cities they are usually of the commercial type, and much smaller.

The pila part of the lavadero is the reservoir. It is the "clean side." It is designed only for storing water and dipping out of to rinse things or fill other containers. It is never acceptable to put anything dirty in the reservoir side, or to put anything soapy in there either. Actually, you don't put anything in there but water and the plastic bowl or cup that is used for the scooping, and that scooper lives in the water. It is important not to contaminate it.

The pila side doesn't have a drain. Why? I have never been able to figure that out. I think that is the single feature of the pila that confuses us foreigners the most. There must be a reason, and I will try to find it. Still searching...

Water enters the pila from a single cold-water spigot. I put a large pila in my bakery kitchen, but I put a regular kitchen faucet that could swing between the pila and the washing side, which has amazed a few local ladies. They say, "Oh, what a good idea! We don't do that."

The other side is the "dirty side." This is where all the business gets done. It is like a shallow sink, with the bottom sloping toward the back, where the drain is located. The bottom surface of this area will likely be corrugated, something like an old-fashioned washboard, which is exactly what it is.

Hand Washing Made Easy

Just in case you ever need to use your pila, here are some quick washing instructions:

1. Run water into the pila side as you work.

2. Begin by soaking the clothing in a large bucket or bowl or whatever is available. Add laundry soap and agitate a bit. Some people leave this for hours or overnight. I never had that kind of patience.

3. Pull clothing items out one at a time and place in the washboard side of the lavadero. Here is where you will develop your own style of scrubbing and washing. This is the washing and spot removing step. Just move it around until it seems clean. You are not so much rubbing on the cement, but more rubbing the cloth against itself. Otherwise, you will end up with a lot of cleaning rags and nothing to wear. Meanwhile you should be dipping water and pouring it on the cloth as you wash it. For me, this is also the rinse cycle, but read on if you want to know how regular people do things.

4. Rinse cycle. Now everything goes back in the bucket with clean water and some fabric softener (I really haven't been swept up by Mexico's obsession for fabric softener, but many people seem to think that if it doesn't smell like "morning fresh flowers" it can't possibly be clean.)

5. Now you wring everything out to within a centimeter of its life and hang to dry on a clothesline, barbed wire fence or bushes. If it starts to rain before everything is dry, just leave it and wait for another drying cycle. This may be repeated as needed.

The Irreverent Chef, a.k.a. Liana Turner, is the chef and owner of Paradise Bakery and Catering. Serving the "Best Cinnamon Rolls in Vallarta," along with delicious sandwiches, salads, main dishes and yummy sweet treats every day but Sunday, and providing all styles of catering services, from pre-prepared meals to-go for informal gatherings to full service elegance for dinners, cocktail parties, wedding receptions and special events, Paradise Bakery & Catering is located at Sierra Aconcagua 299, Prolongacion Brasil, Colonia Lazaro Cardenas, Puerto Vallarta. For more information, call (322) 222-5133 or visit

Click HERE for more articles by The Irreverent Chef

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